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Reflection: Recognizing that we all welcome the divine embrace

(Above: “Door to the River” by Willem de Kooning)

By Sister Nancy Liddy

Occasionally, a bird finds its way into the Motherhouse Chapel when the community is gathered for prayer. It’s hard to helplessly watch as it crashes into the stained-glass windows as it tries to find a way out. And then there’s the collective groan from all of us when the bird just misses getting though the door held open by a brave Sister.

You might be as surprised as I was to learn a bird’s brain and a human brain are more similar than we previously thought. It’s nice to know “bird brain” is now considered a compliment. When I was in high school, my family began to trade books with each other. A book recommended by my father on birdwatching quickly went back on the shelf once my brother introduced me to a particularly good outdoor adventure writer. I became slightly obsessed with articles on the behavior of experienced adventurers who found themselves lost in the wilderness or at sea. Recently revisiting my obsession, I read an article claiming that day-hikers who are seriously lost in a forest tend to walk in circles. The hikers believe they are on an exit route but are actually just moving in circles like the confused bird trapped in our chapel.

As many of you who reflect on the daily scriptural readings know, there are a number of lectionary readings that deal with entrapment and imprisonment in the final weeks leading up to Holy Week. There is the ensnarement of Queen Esther, a foreigner, married to a despot and left without protection or influence; Susanna, harassed and trapped by men of power, and the woman taken in adultery as part of a malicious plan. As the danger closes in, there is the sense they are further removed from the community. Queen Esther cries out in her famous prayer, “Help me, who am alone and have no help but you.” The reader becomes aware that these women are far from alone. The people have fasted for the restoration of Queen Esther; the young Daniel arrives to vindicate Susanna; and Jesus springs the trap that sets the woman free from the plot to stone her.

Reading these Scriptural narratives through the lens of community, we acknowledge the larger sense of belonging to each other. The hikers most likely to get lost are alone on the trails. And how does a trapped bird escape alive without a door held open and a community cheering that it will follow the light to freedom?

Something to Consider

 The attentiveness to the presence of God dwelling in the heart is a practice we often find in the lives of the Saints. While Saint Angela stressed this encounter with the Divine, her prayer always led her to “bring others into the divine embrace.”

Question: In my encounters and relations, do I offer heartfelt availability to people?